With the MLB Trade Deadline less than two weeks away, it’s fairly presumptive that the Atlanta Braves will be incredibly active this year. This season has been a disappointment, to say the least, and either wholesale changes are expected for a future rebuild or a more aggressive pursuit is on the horizon to climb back into the mix of playoff qualification. The expectation is likely the latter since the NL East crown is still within a four-game reach for even the sub-.500 Braves, so this article will focus solely on the buying activity that could take place.
There are multiple areas in need of focus by this deadline, whether it’s their injury-plagued rotation, injury-plagued outfield, or flat-out disappointing bullpen. Because their payroll took a step back in both 2020 and this year due to the global pandemic, there is a chance that they won’t exceed $150 million in total. It’s unknown what financial parameters general manager Alex Anthopoulos has to work with, but reaching that total would be one million north of their initial 2020 plan that would’ve been a franchise record. That leaves a little more than $8.8 million in wiggle room before they likely pump the brakes on spending for players that are, hopefully, competent, inexpensive, youthful, non-injury prone, and most of all, tradeable. These are the Braves’ top five trade deadline targets, who satisfy those five criteria, primed to resolve at least some of the teams’ festering on-field issues.
1. Bryan Reynolds
The unbelievable misfortune of losing a franchise cornerstone in Ronald Acuna Jr.to a torn ACL is unfathomable. Losing the energy, passion, and top-shelf production in someone that’s, not only a five-tool player, but one of the best players in the entire league leaves a significant void likely to be unfilled until he returns. But if there was one player that comes at a cheap price and fills in the void of production better than anyone else out there that could be traded, it’s center fielder Bryan Reynolds of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Earning the first all-star bid of his career this year, this switch-hitter has returned to his spectacular rookie year roots to absolutely rake for both contact and power. The 26-year-old has posted a .302/.387/.519 slash line with 16 home runs, 51 RBI, and 21 doubles through 87 games, flashing signs of becoming a perennial all-star for years to come. In particular, we’ve seen this indication with how he’s crushed fastballs this year for 12 of his 16 home runs and a spectacular .351 batting average on those pitches.
Reynolds also brings a speed that could supply more run production on the base paths and fielding that hasn’t been great in 2021 but could return to its previous two-year form where he saved 7 defensive runs in that span. He even comes at a ridiculously cheap price of just a $601,000 salary this season, before entering year one of arbitration in 2022.
Now, Reynolds predominantly plays in centerfield, but the Braves could really start him anywhere, given his superiority and versatile experience in all three outfield positions. And if they want to keep him at centerfield, that’s just as fine too. Either way, with Acuna Jr. out on injury and Ozuna out on both injury and a career-threatening off-field issue, the Braves’ current cast of outfielders will likely fall incredibly short of making up for the duo’s lost production.
As for the Pirates, general manager Ben Cherington has previously stated no player is “untouchable”, but because Reynolds is a young, prized commodity, the acquisition may yield a hefty price in return. The Braves though need a home run of an acquisition to salvage the season and, furthermore, build on the future, especially in the outfield. As long as it’s not hefty enough to deplete their talent level, why not pull the trigger?
2. Joey Gallo
Fresh off his second all-star game appearance, Joey Gallo continues to show why he’s one of the best sluggers in all of baseball with 24 home runs in the first half of 2021. Specifically, like Reynolds, Gallo has an absolute knack for launching fastballs out of the park, with 17 of his 24 home runs coming off the pitch. But the 27-year-old lefty shouldn’t be valued for solely matching Acuna Jr.’s home run total thus far, because he also reaches base at an impressive rate, with an OBP of .402.
On top of that, he’s the complete package defensively with a cannon of an arm, above-average wheels, and an elite glove that reels in diving catches many fielders can’t. In fact, his 8 defensive runs saved ranks sixth out of all defenders in baseball, meaning he could be adding another gold glove to his trophy case, after earning his first last year. Coming in at the middle of his $6.2 million salary, in his second year of arbitration, Gallo also presumably isn’t too much for the Braves to take on.
The Rangers are expected to make wholesale changes this trade deadline to begin resolving their, after this year, likely five-year playoff drought. And as frequently as Kyle Gibson has been brought up for potential trading, Gallo has come up just as much, but like Gibson, the Rangers may not be willing to part ways without significant compensation for him. Some may say Gallo’s a liability due to both his poor batting average and third-highest strikeout total that have both been issues his entire career. However, considering the high walk rate, the defensive value, the sheer power in his bat, and the relatively cheap contract he brings, he could be a valuable addition to their outfield worth pursuing.
3. Adam Frazier
He’s the second Pirate on this list, and, spoiler alert, he won’t be the last. This team is stacked with valuable talent that could be on the move due to the Pirates’ lengthy absence from contention. Adam Frazier has put up monstrous production with his bat this year, belting a .330 batting average, a league-leading 115 hits, and 26 doubles. While he’s had a respectable career with underrated defensive play, 2021 has definitively been his best. The six-year veteran also bolsters the Braves’ offense with elite hitting against fastballs, notching a .340 average against the pitch, and a necessary team upgrade against offspeed pitching, with a .457 average against them this year.
Frazier may primarily play second base nowadays, but the 29-year-old Mississippi State alum still sees a few reps out in the outfield. If the move were to happen, they’ll likely keep Ozzie Albies at second base and move Frazier to the outfield. Frazier’s more than capable of holding his own there to help recoup the lost, valuable defense of Acuna Jr. and Ozuna. He’s already established his glove as one of the best in the infield with a league-leading 23 outs above the average of all second basemen from 2018-2020. His contract is also incredibly inexpensive at halfway through the $4.3 million being allocated to him in year three of arbitration, so there isn’t much of a financial hurdle to overcome.
There are some that beg to question whether this year is an outlier though, considering the astonishing spike in production we’ve seen from him. But, while that remains to be determined, that point could also benefit the Braves when it comes to the Pirates introducing the asking price. The Braves need the upgrade both offensively and defensively in the outfield and he’s a hot hand they could rely on at least through the season.
4. Jose Berrios
Another glaring issue that’s lingered within the Braves’ roster has been their rotation. One of the primary causes has been the mounting injuries that have consistently hindered this team’s execution on the mound, such as with Huascar Ynoa and most recently, Mike Soroka, who retore his ACL. But also, we’ve simply witnessed sub-par play from other rotational figures like Drew Smyly and Max Fried. Jose Berrios of the Minnesota Twins brings some necessary firepower to this rotation with, at the very least, great number two pitching and maybe even ace-caliber play down the road.
The 27-year-old righty has been off to a solid 2021 campaign, allowing just a 3.48 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, while whiffing 114 through 108 innings. He has flat-out dominated right-handed hitters, in particular, holding them to a .173 batting average and .240 slugging. And while he may not possess the heat Ynoa features in his four-seamer, Berrios still brings an array of other effective pitches across the board. His curveball has generated a 36.1 whiff rate in 2021, his sinker has only given into slugging for a .274 average, while his changeup is one of the most underrated in all of MLB, surrendering a measly .158 batting average.
Adding him to the mix of Ian Anderson, Charlie Morton, and Ynoa could potentially reap wonders for this team. He’s also only in year two of arbitration while in the midst of earning a $6.1 million salary this season. With a couple of all-star game appearances already under his belt, Berrios brings a valuable, proven track record that should intrigue the Braves front office to pursue him.
5. Richard Rodriguez
As stated before, the Pirates have a ton of trade value, so expect them to receive a ton of calls inquiring about talent prior to the deadline. Many of which will come from closer-needy teams, like the Braves, looking to attain the services of Richard Rodriguez. To be honest, this Braves’ bullpen has been disconcerting this year. Once a staple to lean on in the past, now has become predominantly an impediment to NL East control. Outside of Luke Jackson and maybe Tyler Matzek, the Braves could use an overhaul on several of their bullpen members.
Rodriguez helps with that, replacing Will Smith, who hasn’t been awful but certainly hasn’t been the strength they were hoping for when he replaced the superior Mark Melancon. It’s been a career year for Rodriguez, who’s producing a 2.29 ERA and .769 WHIP while accumulating 12 saves and only coughing up one long ball all year. He may not be striking out guys often this season, as it’s his lowest rate since his rookie season, but as long as he’s not allowing costly home runs or ushering hitters to reach base, the Braves should gladly take him.
Rodriguez features a two-pitch repertoire, including a fastball and slider that have both been suffocating hitters this year. The former, his favorite pitch by a significant margin, has only capitulated a .196 average in response, while the latter has only given into a .133 average on 64 of his 501 total pitches this year.
The fifth-year veteran may not be the most youthful at age 31, but he’s still young enough not to worry anytime soon, especially since it’s still far from affecting his career mileage as it would more so if he was a starter. For the front office to reel him in, they’d be chewing up a contract already 80-plus games into a $1.7 million salary, so he’s very, very affordable. This bullpen has become arguably the team’s biggest weakness this season, but leaning on Rodriguez as that closer could potentially bode well late in games and maybe even ignite a spark in others on the team.
Braves’ Top Five Trade Deadline Targets: In Summation
Ideally, it would be nice to land not just one, but two of these players by the deadline, not only because it’s feasible, but because it’s imperatively necessary to salvage their season. Anthopoulos has already acquired the services of left-fielder Joc Pederson from the Chicago Cubs, but the pursuit of multiple guys on this list could maybe still be financially realistic. There may also be questions as to whether some of these players are worth taking if the asking price requires giving up some of their higher-valued prospects. But the risk is necessary to build towards the future with already proven players, instead of developmental players that haven’t yet hit their stride.
If that means giving up on Smyly or Fried, prospects in either Christian Pache or Drew Waters, with others like Jared Shuster, Braden Shewmake, and Jasseel De La Cruz, then so be it. You can not waste this team’s current pool of talent in guys like Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, and Ozzie Albies. They are in win-now mode, not win-later mode, especially with reigning NL MVP Freeman, who’s already at age 32 and in a contract-expiring year. A rebuild isn’t necessary, but waiting for certain prospects to prove they’re the real deal could be just as costly too with these aforementioned players already in their prime.
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